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Smartwatches are all the rave. But the outdoor crowd demands a watch that is durable, accurate, and packed full of purposeful features. Is Garmin’s all-new Instinct 2 Solar the best choice for an outdoor warrior? 

We live in a world driven by technology, and smartwatches have become a big part of that. If you want to know how popular smartwatches have become, sit down at your favorite restaurant, shopping center, or park., and start people-watching. You’ll be blown away by the number of people reading texts on their wrists, checking the weather, looking at the score of a baseball game, and checking their daily step count. 

I’ve become dependent on my Garmin fenix 6 for running, hunting, and everyday life. I use it constantly, so I was excited to put Garmin’s Instinct 2 Solar through the paces. Let’s take a look at what this watch has going for it.

Initial Impressions

Like many Garmin watches, color options are many, and the watch comes in bezel sizes of 40mm (43 grams) and 45 mm (53 grams). After wearing it for two straight weeks and performing a litany of outdoor activities, I can say it’s as comfortable of a watch as I’ve worn. The Instinct 2 is noticeably lighter than my other smartwatches. My fenix watches (3 and 6) are heavy and cumbersome in comparison, and the Instinct 2 significantly trumps them in terms of comfort. 

Set Up

Setting up the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar is straightforward. I recommend reading the instructions, but there’s nothing you can do — no button you can push — that will ruin any setting or hurt the watch. The best way to learn is to play around, as it is loaded with features and custom settings. 

After powering the watch by holding the labeled CTRL button down and selecting your desired language settings, download the Garmin Connect and pair your smartphone with your Instinct 2. The process is easy — you’ll get a code on your Instinct 2, which you plug into the Garmin Connect app, and you’re off and running. Once the watch pairs with your phone, you’ll be able to receive text messages, phone calls, Instagram notifications, and the like right on your watch face. If you don’t want this feature, simply turn the notifications off.

What it Can Do

After you’ve got it set up, you can start digging into the custom features: set custom goals for daily step count, intensity minutes, floors climbed, fluids consumed, etc. You can also change those goals quickly. Watch operation is elementary once you have the CTRL (Light), MENU (Up), ABC (Down), GPS, and SET (Back) buttons mastered and understand what each does. You can change watch face settings, set your time zone, altitude, and the list of customization goes on and on. 

One of my favorite features about the watch is its durability. I farmed and ranched in the watch for two weeks, fished, swam, ran over 150 miles, and did loads of other physical activities. Not only could I track those activities, but the watch, like all my Garmin models, held up like a German Tank. I did, and you will, experience moments when you look at your watch face, and it’s telling you an update is available. That doesn’t mean something is wrong. Accept the update and move on. Occasionally, you’ll also have to sync the watch with the Connect app on your phone. Touch the double arrows that complete a circle in the upper right part of your phone’s screen to accomplish this task. 

Using the Garmin Instinct 2 to track a run
Once the Instinct 2 is set up, you can start recording your activities and sharing it to your phone. Jace Bauserman

Most smartwatch users —  besides wanting text messages, phone calls, voicemails, social media, etc., sent to their wrist — purchase a smartwatch to track physical activities. The Instinct 2 is excellent for this. Jab the GPS button once and then start hitting the ABC (down) arrow to choose from a litany of  activities: Trail Run, Run, Treadmill, Virtual Run, Indoor Track, Walk, Hike, Climb, Bike, Bike Indoor, MTB, eBike, eMTB, Cyclocross, Pool Swim, and more. The watch also has options for activities like Hunt, Fish, and Golf. This watch will track everything.

Not only can you view your stats on your Connect app, the app will store and keep all of your past runs, swims, bikes, hikes, etc. You can set and conquer new goals and refer back to months worth of activities to monitor how your body is responding to your training. The watch also offers safety features, like 24/7 heart rate and health monitoring. The heart rate monitor on the back of the watch matched my chest monitor beat for beat. The Instinct 2 Solar will provide daily workout suggestions and recovery time suggestions after each workout and monitor your VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise) and sleep patterns. Its benefits are remarkable, and it is one of the best adventure watches I’ve ever used. 

Reasons like these are why I told my wife I can’t function without my Garmin watches. You get used to having all of this information at your fingertips, and if you use it correctly, you can make a positive life change in terms of setting and sticking to workouts.

How Does the Instinct 2 Perform Outdoors?

In the woods, the watch excelled, and I can’t wait to test it out further this fall. I love that the watch has sunrise/sunset on its face, and it tracks weather including wind direction, hourly forecast, and the like. The Instinct 2 lets you punch in your area’s elevation, making the watch altimeter more accurate. Testing proved it is accurate to within a few feet, even when a significant elevation change was made. Over the two-week testing period, I also found that the watch’s barometer is remarkably spot-on. Having detailed forecasts, sunrise/set times, exact altitude, and barometric pressure leads to good outdoor decision-making. I also tip my hat to the digital compass, a feature I use often in the woods. 

Hunting Gear photo
Purchasing the solar charging-capable model (reviewed here) makes the Instinct 2 one of the best adventure smartwatches on the market. Jace Bauserman

Another great feature of the watch is it can be bought with solar charging capability, allowing you to charge via sunlight. The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar has several charging sensors, and if you expose the watch to the direct sun, the battery will charge. This means you can go on long adventures, use the GPS mode for navigation and tracking (which pulls on the battery pretty hard), and the watch will keep on keeping on.

Speaking of the GPS, I found it to be super accurate. Satellites are quickly grabbed for rapid position fixes. And other than in ultra-dense tree cover, I had zero issues with its performance. 

The battery life of the watch in standard smartwatch mode is 28 days. I did not push that threshold, but I can tell you that using the watch’s GPS for 60- to 90-minute workouts, seven days a week, provided 19 days of battery life. This is impressive.  


Navigation back to the home screen is the only area of the watch that wasn’t impressive. There is no preset button to take you back to the home screen; you must push the back button repeatedly until you get back to home. This is annoying. I recommend pressing the Menu button, choosing Settings, scrolling down to System, and then choosing the Hot Keys option the instant you put this watch on your wrist. Here you can quickly set a button combination to take you back to the home screen.  

After you deal with that, there’s really no issues with the watch. For the money, it’s the best adventure watch I’ve tested to date. I would have no trouble wearing it for any adventure, anywhere in the world.